1,800 lost years: the silence of Adam Putnam, Kelli Stargel, and the School Board enabled deadbeat DoE’s TOP school atrocity

Here’s a math problem for the FSA.

Add together Florida’s fraudulent school grades + Kelli Stargel’s VAM + the teacher shortage + the uninformed, incompetent brutality of your state Board of Education + the Florida education model’s dripping contempt for every single person in a zoned school that isn’t Highlands Grove.

Take that sum and multiply it by the cowardly silence of all your politicians — except one.

What’s the answer?

About 1,800 years of lost teacher/instructional time in six months. And an obvious violation of Florida’s constitutional right to “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

“Oh, this is gonna be fun.”

Quick refresher: late last summer, the state Board of Education seized control of five Polk middle schools. The BoE used Kelli Stargel’s VAM equation, this monstrosity…

..to forcibly transfer dozens of teachers just after the school year started. Neither the Board of Education nor the Polk District had any plan for replacing these certified teachers. After all, there’s a massive teacher shortage. The Polk District did not have the people to replace the people forced to move. So the kids at Boone, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Addair, Westwood, and Dension got a patchwork of subs and administrator fill-ins.

You may remember that BoE Member Gary Chartrand punctuated this abuse when he got caught on a hot mike saying, “Oh, this is gonna be fun.” See this post for those details.

Chartrand and the horrible, awful, disgusting people on the state Board of Education have long since moved on. If you are one of the 75 percent of people in Polk County or Florida in a traditional zoned school, they do not care about your child or your life or your choice. They will not waste a second of conscience on it. When they look at you, they \_(ツ)_/¯. You should understand that.

However, we in Polk County do not have the luxury of \_(ツ)_/¯. And on February 28, the Polk School Board got a full report on the real-world consequences of the BoE’s fun.

1,800 years

Through the first six months or so of this year, Polk’s five “TOP” middle schools combined had suffered at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies. That means an active class for which no permanent certified or provisional teacher was in place. 2,617 days. If you multiply that by the 125 or so kids each teacher touches, you get about 327,000 days. Divide that by the 180 days of a school year, and it gives you more than 1800 years. Almost two millennia of loss.

It’s absurd to even try to evaluate schools operating under that kind of state-sponsored sabotage. But mark my words, the state will rig the fraudulent school grades to go up this time. School grades are always, always, always fraudulent political tools determined by political votes and manipulation of cut scores and bell curves. Your legislators and school officials will jack up grades to avoid any responsibility for their actions and set themselves up for elections in 2018.

Whatever fraud the state government tries to sell you this year, don’t buy it. The BoE/DoE is a deadbeat parent. Period. They had their “fun” with Jackie Byrd and the human beings of those schools; and then they ran off with a \_(ツ)_/¯ and left our community to fix their 1,800-year atrocity.

Silence = Death

A coordinated public campaign led by your elected officials would have stopped this. If your School Board had even tried even a little to hold your state elected officials accountable, we could have avoided enormous human harm.

Unfortunately, your actual School Board members and state legislators did absolutely nothing of significance. They publicly washed their hands of this atrocity — pretended like it wasn’t happening. It is the most shameful, consequential act of local political silence I have ever seen.

I was running for School Board at the time. I quite civilly and calmly confronted the BoE about this during a public meeting and got a bouncer sicked on me. I also confronted Gary Chartrand face-to-face about what he considered “fun” in this exercise. He said, “Give me a break.”

The BoE folded like an accordion after I made Chartrand’s mocking of Jackie Byrd public. It folded like an accordion after a few parents spoke up in the fall. By then it was too late. The damage was done. The state had kicked out either 9 of 11 or 11 of 13 (can’t remember which) language arts teachers at Kathleen Middle against the principal’s will.

Never mind that Kathleen was on an upward trajectory and just five points away from a C in a year the deadbeat state rigged the fraudulent school grades to fall across the board. (If you doubt me, ask Lakeland High and Lake Wales High about that.) Indeed, principal Sheila Gregory deserves a medal for her performance this year keeping Kathleen together after that happened. Kathleen, believe it or not, is almost certainly in the best shape of those five schools environmentally and in terms of morale.

The Adam Putnam campaign could have begun last summer by fighting for Polk kids

I noticed back on March 6 that soon-to-be Polk County gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam showed up at a traditional Polk elementary school for a pre-campaign photo op. I’m pleased that Garden Grove was able to receive him.

But Westwood and Denison and Boone needed Putnam much more last summer.

So I want to make you a deal, Adam: you can keep using your home county schools for campaign material with my blessing — if you agree to actually fight for our kids and teachers publicly for once.

Kelli Stargel discovers that middle school children exist

I also noted this with interest on March 6:

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, introduced a bill Monday with a description anyone who has parented a tween or young teen could appreciate: “Now we’re going to go to another difficult subject,” she said, “which is middle school children.”

Stargel’s bill (SB 360) isn’t meant to offer parenting advice, however.

Instead, it would require the Florida Department of Education to study middle school academics in high-performing states — think Massachusetts and Minnesota, among a few others — and then make recommendations on how to improve things in the Sunshine State.

This is one of those laugh while crying moments.

Let me give you a hint, Kelli, about what Massachusetts and Minnesota don’t do.

They don’t use this equation…

…to get rid of teachers who want to work with middle school children in traditional school environments. After the school year starts. And replace them with nothing. How about we start by agreeing not to do that ever again?

I call this equation Kelli Stargel’s VAM because she claims it herself. In the meeting the School Board had with our legislators earlier this year, when I held the equation up for everyone to see, Stargel explained that she was trying to create an “objective” measure of teacher quality.

I told in her response: “This isn’t objective. It’s incomprehensible.”

And its use became, objectively, a human atrocity. Rather than study the good liberals of Massachusetts, Kelli Stargel could simply atone for misuse of her VAM. She could show some moral courage and take some tiny measure of responsibility for the harm she helped inflict on the students and teachers of her county.

In the meantime, I will be helping her take responsibility for it. I have a power point deck with a VAM slide headlined “How Kelli Stargel defines teachers.” I enjoyed presenting it at a Lakeland Rotary Club a couple weeks back. I thought it went over quite well. And I look forward to more presentations.

Because no one is a caricature, I also want to point out that Kelli Stargel has been quite constructive and helpful, as I understand it, in working through the Roosevelt issue.

If her middle school studying helps the state become less destructive to middle school children, I’ll happily give her credit. But for now, the public needs to know how much she has to answer for.

Shan Goff, Travis Pillow, and the rest of Jeb’s Foundation people do not believe in choice

There’s one other group with great culpability in all this. It’s the unelected, paid marketers of the Florida model. They’re all affiliated with Jeb Bush’s foundation. They’ve spent nearly 20 years rejecting the notion that the 75 percent of people in traditional zoned schools should have any “choice” at all in how they’re educated.

I want to draw a clear distinction here between paid choice marketers and the people who avail themselves of choice. I’ve been a choice community parent myself at various times. I believe in choice + collaboration. And the vast majority of the people in Polk’s choice community that I’ve met and engaged believe in that, too. I’m here to build bridges with anybody who wants to. But I’m also not here to lie.

Jeb Bush’s money and Barack Obama’s “liberal reformers” have sold you choice + fake competition + fraud + blackmail. If you don’t have your child in a charter, magnet, or private school, they look at you as a bad parent. Whatever the state does to you, you have it coming. You are powerless and deserve to be. That’s a good way to market shady private and charter schools as an escape.

If this wasn’t true, if Florida’s paid choice acolytes were at all serious about choice, they would have screamed about what Gary Chartrand and company did to the human beings of these five Polk schools. They knew all about it.

Unless I missed it, Travis Pillow, the editor of Redefined, Jeb’s house organ, could not be bothered to write anything critical about the choice taken away from the 4,000 families of Boone, Westwood, Denison, LAA, and Kathleen.

These paid cronies offered nothing but deafening silence when the state forced the roughly 4,000 families of Boone, Denison, Westwood, Kathleen, and Lake Alfred Addair to choose subs and staffing chaos. They offered nothing but silence at the 1,800 years of loss.

It was \_(ツ)_/¯ all the way down.

Take a look at how Shan Goff addressed this during the summer.

Goff is a long-time test-punish-choose educrat in charge of the death throes of Jeb Bush’s education influence on Florida. I had a delicious public discussion with her during the campaign, just as the teacher transfers were unfolding. You can read it all here.

What follows is our key exchange. Note Goff’s contempt for the choices of parents at traditional schools — and her open willingness to tie that choice to school grade fraud:

Goff: I think we can all agree that having a school be a D for several years is bad. I know that parents may be happy with their teachers, but at some point you have to make a change.

Townsend: Well, that might be true if the meaning of “D” did not change every year. But it does.

Goff: Yes, it does change every year.

Townsend: [Turns to crowd of business folks] You all sitting here need to understand that there is much more going on below the surface of everything you hear from these people.

I should point out that I have, with very little success, tried to engage Jeb Bush’s cronies and liberal reformers over the years. I’ve been nice with private emails — and I’ve taunted them on Twitter. I tried everything I can think of to get them to come out and play. It never really works, not even as an elected official. They don’t want to hear anything from critics. Nothing. They are utterly lacking in self-criticism as a group. It’s sad because I think most of them know what they’ve been part of. But they won’t try to face it and correct it by working with people like me. Too much vanity.

If that ever changes, we can have a good faith, civil conversation about education policy anytime they want. I’m eager to test my ideas and morality against theirs. I feel like I get the far better of those exchanges on the rare occasions they occur.

The death throes of the Florida model

This a deeply strange and muddled time in local, state, and national education policy. Trump ran against Common Core and the Jebama model of heavy-handed education “accountability.” He generally ran against the Florida model and emasculated Jeb in the process. Then he appointed Betsy DeVos, who loves the Florida model and comes right out of the Jebama reform movement firmament.

That’s because Trump doesn’t know anything about education; and he doesn’t really care about contradictions. Also, he’s a bit of a relic, always looking backward at old arguments for everything. Sorry, guys, ya’ll know I’m not political correct. And I don’t lie to you.

DeVos not withstanding, the Florida model is under stronger attack from actual Floridians than it has been since Jeb cursed us with it in 1999. Virtually all the legislative action on “accountability” this session — from Republican state government — is moving away from Jeb Bush’s tired legacy. I’ll have a piece on that in a few days. Not much is going to happen this year, I suspect. But events like what happened in Polk are tearing apart the moral legitimacy of the Florida model. I think I’ve played a small part in that.

As we have these debates, it’s vital to remember that each abstract argument bears directly on the life experience of flesh and blood human beings. These arguments involve kids and teachers whose lives feel as epic to them as yours does to you and mine does to me. Over the summer, your elected public officials at the state and local level spit with their silence on the 4,000 flesh and blood families and teachers of the Stigmatized 5 schools. They want you to forget the effect that 1,800 years had on children and the people still working with them. Don’t.

I won’t. I am always willing to look ahead. But I will never let anybody forget what happened. I will never let anybody forget the 1,800 years of human loss that wasn’t worth a fight.

4 comments

  1. I agree with everything you say except your attack on Adam. You’re way off base on that one.

    • I don’t think it’s an attack, Lisa. It’s a critique. I like Adam. I’ve known him professionally a long time. We’re not friends or anything, but I’ve covered him. He’s smart. I think he cares about governing. I promise you he’s aware of all of this. I’m trying to push him to incorporate this stuff into his campaign. Public officials should be critiqued for their performance. Myself included. If a hurricane came through Polk County and disrupted the loves of 4,000 families, I feel certain that Adam and the others would have been involved in mitigation. I think this was a hurricane and they dropped the ball. I want them to do better. And I’m happy to be told how I can do better.

  2. Joyce Hostler

    Such an excellent summary of what has gone on with these Middle Schools. I personally find Kelli Stargel to be extremely limited in her own educational background and only elected on the coattails of her husband. Voters pay attention; these are you children and grandchildren. A few years ago, people not zoned for Denison tried every trick in the book to get their child into Denison. Then came Jeb!

  3. Thank you. I work at one of the “5”. The junk that’s been thrown at us by the every whim of those in power is unbelievable. We’ve had such turn over. Thank you for putting it out there. I just wish more people would pay attention. Keep up the great work!

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